As popular as automated processes are now, many IT organizations have yet to embrace application deployment automation. In this article, I cover some of the top reasons why automating your application deployment process will make you look forward to the days when manual deployments are a distant memory.
1. Save Time
In a DevOps model, part of the mission is to improve efficiency. Standardizing development environments and automating delivery processes support that mission. Manual deployments can be tedious and time-consuming. Typically, there are many specific sets of tasks that must be performed meticulously in a specific order. It's easy, even for someone who has done the same deployment 100 times, to miss a small but critical step. When that happens, the problem may be obvious, or it might take hours to track down it down.
Luckily, executing large numbers of specific tasks in order is something that computers are very good at. Not only does delegating the deployment process to a computer free up human time, but the computer can also do it much faster. When it comes time to deploy, instead of your developer or IT personnel having to block out time on their calendar, it can be as fast as clicking a button and waiting a few minutes for the deployment to complete.
2. Increase Accuracy
Not only does application deployment automation save time, but it also increases accuracy. As mentioned above, a deployment includes a very specific set of tasks that must be executed precisely. If a single step is missed, it could result in problems that don't manifest until later, when they will be very difficult to track down. These kinds of problems are preventable - we already know the steps that need to happen to prevent them, we just need to make sure that they are executed consistently.
3. Improve Knowledge Transfer & Documentation
With a manual deployment process, it's easy to lose track of the exact set of steps needed to do a new deployment. For example, if a new server is added to a web farm, you need to remember to deploy to the additional server. One approach to this problem would be to document the deployment process and use that as a checklist each time you deploy. However, it's easy to forget to update documentation. It can also be difficult to write with enough accuracy so that if someone other than the author needs to take over the process, they can.
Automated application deployments are written in a common language so anyone with training in the deployment tool can understand and modify the process. Your deployment configurations are also self-verifying - the tool should tell you whether your deployment succeeded. The configuration is verified every time you need to deploy.
4. Allow the Possibility of Auto-Scaling
With the advent of cloud computing, the concept of "auto-scaling" is something that can only be enabled by automating your deployment process. Auto-scaling, in brief, is configuring your application to allocate additional resources when needed. In the past, with physical servers and manual deployments, something like allocating an extra web server to deal with load would require purchasing new equipment, provisioning it, and then finally deploying the application. That process could take weeks or months. Now, since these cloud machines can be created with code almost instantaneously, it's possible to automate the process of provisioning a new web server. However, the new web server needs to have instructions on how to set itself up. That's where your automated deployment configuration comes in - give the cloud service a deployment configuration, and let it create resources as necessary.
Choosing Your Deployment Tools
There are lots of great tools out there to help you automate the deployment process for your .NET application. For instance, if you use Visual Studio Team Services as your application's source control, then the build and release tools are already built in. You can configure your build through the user interface. Octopus Deploy is an easy-to-use and low-commitment way to get started with automatic deployments. If you're looking to employ auto-scaling, you'll want to investigate what cloud providers have to offer. Most cloud providers provide their own services for automatic deployment or can be used in conjunction with third-party tools.
Don’t let fear of the unknown prevent you from enjoying the time savings and frustration avoidance you can achieve by adopting an automated deployment strategy. By embracing the tools at your disposal and making a small up-front investment in setup, the pains of manual deployment will soon become a distant memory.